To describe the past month as a bad one, PR-wise, for the NFL would be one heck of an understatement. The opening weeks of the league’s 2014 season have been all but overshadowed by outrage over the league’s seemingly deliberate attempts to minimize, dismiss, and cover-up charges of domestic violence among several of its star players. On Sunday, perhaps, the narrative shifts to stories like, “Holy cow, did the Cowboys really just blow out the Saints on national television”—but by Monday, the story is once again about waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It’s a situation that the normally powerful NFL seems to have a difficult time spinning its way out of, as each week offers either the names of more players arrested on domestic violence charges or new reports of the extent to which the league went to minimize the severity of the charges against some of its stars. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell makes $44 million a year, which means that he’s unlikely to resign—which would be the fastest way for the league to spin its way out of the nightmare situation it’s found itself in—so instead, he’s been on a tour of domestic violence programs, holding meetings with the heads of various programs. What exactly those meetings entail is unclear, though in the past two weeks, the league has hired four women with backgrounds in domestic violence prevention to serve in an advisory capacity

This weekend, as part of his tour, Goodell went to Austin, where he met with Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is based out of the capital. And while he was in town, he also scheduled a meeting with someone else who’s developed a reputation for not tolerating poor behavior on the part of football players: Longhorns coach Charlie Strong.

Strong, of course, has become famous for his no-nonsense approach to player behavior, prompting “Charlie Strong Has Kicked You Off The Team” headlines after he booted nine Longhorns for off-field concerns since his arrival. Strong famously discussed his five “core values” for the team in the media: 

“We have core values within this program. We expect our players to abide by those values,” Strong said. “You take away something that’s important to them—and football is really important to a lot of these players—and you make sure that with the games taken away from them, they understand how important it is to represent this great university not only on the field but off.

Strong laid out his five core values—honesty, treating women with respect and no drugs, stealing or guns—in his first meeting with his new players in January and said he had no intention of running players off the team.

The fact that Strong has followed his talk about core values with action lends him a credibility that Goodell lacks. (Of course “having more credibility than Roger Goodell” doesn’t say much.) And it’s clear why Goodell would want to spend some time rubbing elbows with someone the media admires for taking off-field issues seriously. 

But it’s also worth asking what, exactly, all of this accomplishes. NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Troy Vincent, was in Austin with Goodell, and he tweeted about the meeting with Strong: 

That all sounds nice enough, but it’s easy to be cynical regarding the NFL right now, and a cynic might look at Goodell’s attempt to get his name more closely identified with Strong’s (as well as Ray-Jones’s, and the rest of the women that Goodell has spent time meeting with in recent weeks) as he attempts to turn the page from the league’s mishandling of the Ray Rice incident and others. Is the sit-down tour that had Goodell in Austin a chance for the commissioner to whitewash the league’s mistakes? 

Goodell is probably capable of at least seeming sincere if women who’ve dedicated their lives to ending domestic violence were willing to sit down with him. Though Strong, as a football coach, can’t really turn down a meeting with the most powerful man in the game. And yet the endgame for the NFL is harder and harder to envision. Is Goodell just going to keep taking meetings until a week or two pass without more news of the scandal, and hope that the public moves on? It’s unclear what Roger Goodell and Charlie Strong could talk about that would convince anyone that the league is really changing on a fundamental level. 

(image via Flickr)